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TEMAN's RENT Ignites the Air with Artistic Fire and Communal Warmth

TEMAN's RENT Ignites the Air with Artistic Fire and Communal Warmth

The production brings together Indonesia's finest actors for a heartwarming and gut-wrenching affair.

TEMAN (Teater Musikal Nusantara) did what many Indonesian thespians thought impossible: bring Jonathan Larson's 1996 RENT to the country. The show's themes - which proved to be just as relevant in 2022, if not more so - were powerfully brought to life through effective direction, heartrending performances, and delightful production design

RENT is TEMAN's third major theatrical production (the company also produced and worked on several musical series during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic) following 2018's INTO THE WOODS and 2019's HAIRSPRAY.

RENT is headed by Venytha Yoshiantini, TEMAN's artistic director, as both the director and choreographer. Chriskevin Adefrid once again returns as the producer, alongside Ivan Tangkulung as the music director. Vocal coach Bernice Nikki serves as the vocal director.

Set in New York City amidst the height of the HIV crisis in the late 1990s, RENT was written by Jonathan Larson, who passed away just before the show's first preview, which went on to become a beloved and award-winning rock musical.

RENT tells the story of a group of friends, among them the aspiring filmmaker Mark (Gerardo Tanor) and his roommate, musician Roger (Nino Prabowo), who live as squatters in an apartment building now owned by their old friend Benny (Aldafi Adnan). While Mark and Roger are still pursuing the bohemian life, Benny has married into wealth and is looking to turn the apartment complex into a cyber experience facility.

TEMAN's RENT Ignites the Air with Artistic Fire and Communal Warmth

One night, Roger meets Mimi (Andrea Miranda), a 19-year-old exotic dancer with a drug habit. The two flirts, although Roger is still shackled by the memories of his former girlfriend, who passed away recently.

Meanwhile, Mark is contacted by his ex-girlfriend, Maureen (Galabby), who's asking him to help prepare a performance protesting Benny's plan to evict the neighborhood. Maureen is also assisted by her new girlfriend, the lawyer Joanne (Monique Louis).

Mark and Roger's other friend, Tom (Taufan Purbo) has just been attacked and robbed when he meets drummer and drag queen Angel (Pasha Prakasa). Angel helps him off his feet and the two quickly fall in love.

The story continues to explore the developing relationships amongst the cast of characters; shadow of past romances threatens to tear new lovers apart; the promise of mainstream success seduces one's idealism; and both drug addiction and HIV/AIDS take lives indiscriminately. Yet, at the end of the day, love and community prevail.

Bringing such a well-known story, especially with mature themes that can be seen as contentious in Indonesia, was a brave undertaking on TEMAN's part. Some lyrics can also, deservedly, be seen as raunchy (though perhaps unavoidable considering the subject matter).

So how did TEMAN do it?

I'm happy to report: exceedingly well, considering the circumstances. The lyrics stayed unchanged, even at its most explicit (in La Vie Boheme, namely). Although the staging understandably had to be adjusted to accommodate for the local audience - namely, the only couple to kiss on screen was Roger and Mimi.

But more importantly, the show succeeded in bringing the heart and messages that have resonated with so many theatergoers for decades. Part of RENT's staying power comes from the fact that it's such a joyful and unabashedly theatrical show while also having a heavily dramatic and emotionally complex story in its center.

Director Venytha Yoshiantini understood this perfectly, executing both sides of the coin near perfectly.

The more crowd-pleasing numbers, such as the titular Rent or the idealistic anthem La Vie Boheme, were lively, with exciting choreography that blended both homages to previous iconic productions and uniquely Indonesian touches (keep an eye out for a very familiar Ratoh Jaro movement!).

TEMAN's RENT Ignites the Air with Artistic Fire and Communal Warmth

Meanwhile, the emotional climaxes of the story succeeded in squeezing tears from the audience. This is achieved not only through the climactic moment themselves, but also through building these characters' relationship so genuinely, for the most part. One outstanding moment is the song Contact, in which a major character undergoes a painful and fatal experience that has been translated to the stage with some very meaningful and creative use of a red rope - an unforgettable theatrical experience.

Of course, for a musical, all these moments are accompanied by music. RENT's score is well-known for its blend of rock elements and showtune. Therefore, it's very exciting to listen to Ivan Tangkulung's musical direction (he also played Keyboard 1 on this production), which executes this pop-rock score with aplomb. And, most importantly, worked harmoniously with the scenes and elevated them to great artistic and emotional heights.

RENT is a show centered on its characters, and TEMAN has assembled some of the nation's finest musical theater actors. The results speak for themselves; it was exceedingly difficult to pick a favorite, as each member of the cast including the wonderful ensemble - is an accomplished and exceedingly talented performer.

Amongst the Alphabet City artists, Angel Dumott Schunard stands out as the character most emblematic of the show's themes. The actor to step in and fill the high heels of this famously challenging role is Pasha Prakasa. Although he had professional acting experience in the United States, Pasha recently took to teaching, directing, and choreography; his portfolio include TEMAN's HAIRSPRAY and PAYUNG FANTASI. RENT is his big return to the stage as a performer.

A character as complex as Angel needed an experienced actor at the helm, and Pasha accomplished it in spades. He is warm, bright, joyful earlier on, and pensieve, vulnerable, and tragic later on.

Angel's first big moment is, of course, Today 4 U. Coming out in a gorgeous sparkly red dress (courtesy of Ursula S. Gayatri, the costume designer), Angel sings about how she just earned some money by doing a certain canine-related chore. Although the singing was a bit inconsistent in this particular number, Pasha's tremendous physicality also came into play, as he danced and cartwheeled across the stage, earning rapturous applause from the audience.

Where he really shined, however, was in the more tender moments. In numbers such as Santa Fe and I'll Cover You, he exudes a tremendously comforting and immensely likable presence. It also helps that the chemistry between him and Taufan Purbo (who played Collins) is so palpable and genuine. And in group scenes, it is apparent that Angel is the energetic glue binding everyone together.

Therefore, it is all the more heartbreaking when we get to see Angel's body taken by disease. Pasha gave it everything he's got, from the way Angel's hands shake and tremble, to the divinely serene and wistful expression he had as he was released from the pain. Angel's death hits like a due to just how much we've gotten to know and love her.

Playing opposite Pasha, Taufan Purbo (who previously played Jamie in JPAC's THE LAST FIVE YEARS) as Collins was a definite highlight. His strong vocal complements and his natural acting made for a very realized Collins.

It is important to note that Angel and Collins serve as a more mature (and, importantly, stable) romance to the rest of the main cast. As mentioned, Pasha and Taufan are perfectly suited for these roles. The experience and finesse the duo brought to the table made all the sweet moments sweeter and the sad moments just that much poignant.

Then we have the duo of Mark and Roger, played, respectively, by Gerardo Tanor and Nino Prabowo. Gerardo Tanor, as the youngest of the main cast, made for a similarly youthful Mark.

There has always been discourse - both in the story itself and out - regarding Mark's role within the cast, as someone allegedly on the outside looking in at this community ravaged by the HIV pandemic. This point of contention is further highlighted in this production, with Mark always looking a bit too well-put together, a bit too clean compared to his grittier group of friends.

Interestingly, Mark's propensity to film the hardships of the homeless without giving actual tangible help is even more relevant nowadays. In the age of social media and content creation, more than a few creators resorted to documenting, or even exploiting, poverty for fame. This phenomena is also quite pronounced in Indonesia, leading to articles dissecting it. Jonathan Larson's script called out this behavior when a homeless woman confronted Mark - although the issue was not fully resolved, even calling out such behavior serves as an important reminder for people in the audience to more critically observe the content we create and consume.

Gerardo Tanor also differentiates his take on Mark by giving the filmmaker a significant touch of theatricality, especially apparent in the flagrant way he moves in numbers like Tango: Maureen and La Vie Boheme. Although certainly interesting and entertaining to watch, this staginess isn't quite so apparent during Mark's other scenes, where he appears more subdued; a more consistent characterization would really solidify Mark's character. Aside from this, Gerardo brought a good energy, especially when playing opposite Roger; the friendship between these conflicted young men was a treat to watch.

Nino Prabowo as Roger certainly looked the part. With print shirts, ripped jeans, and tied long hair, he carried a certain rugged charm that helped sell the part of an anguished musician looking to write one final song to leave behind.

That's not to imply that his performance was lackluster; indeed, he was very good at embodying the conflicted emotions of Roger. He especially shines playing opposite Mimi, especially at his most vulnerable in songs like Another Day, where the audience cannot help but feel pity for him as he seeks to break free from his guild, despite the lyrics he's singing.

TEMAN's RENT Ignites the Air with Artistic Fire and Communal Warmth

As a vocalist, Nino Prabowo is as strong as any other; unsurprising, considering his extensive background in both pop singing and musicals. He carries Larson's tunes very well. Sometimes, however, his singing might come off as too perfect. Considering the powerful lyrics and rock music influences, letting himself loose more with the melodies might help in delivering even more of the raw and painful emotions that Roger goes through.

Nino's co-star is none other than Andrea Miranda (or Dea) as Mimi. Dea has been a mainstay in the Jakarta musical scene, although she's perhaps known most for playing delicate roles, such as Cinderella in INTO THE WOODS and Amber von Tussle in HAIRSPRAY. Therefore, it's such a joyful witnessing her executing the more "edgy" and racy role of Mimi Marquez smashingly well.

Dea brought everything one could want in Mimi: coquettish, bitter, romantic, hopeful, confident, fragile. She jumped and danced around in Out Tonight, one of Mimi's big numbers, with great vigor. Although it should be noted that this production added two background dancers (presumably, Mimi's peers in the Cat Scratch Club) into the number; I feel that this addition was a bit distracting, especially considering the other two girls danced in what looked like very colorful 90's fitness outfits, as Dea's performance was strong enough on its own.

And in Without You, Dea enchanted the audience with her lovely vocals that conveyed the feeling of deep loss, not only from her tumultuous relationship with Roger but also from Angel's passing. Overall, it is highly wondrous to see this side of Andrea Miranda's showmanship that isn't often shown. It further proves her inimitable range and commitment.

The final main couple in the cast involves the performance-artist-slash-activist Maureen Johnson and her girlfriend and Harvard Law graduate, Joanne Jefferson.

Maureen is played by another theater mainstay, Galabby. Out of everyone in the cast, this one particularly feels like a match made in heaven (or maybe over the moon).

Galabby is known for her exquisite physical storytelling, a strength that was in full display in works such as PETUALANGAN SHERINA and PLANET: SEBUAH LAMENT. As Maureen, it was simply exciting to see her just move across the stage, a bundle of untamed energy that jumps in and out of chair, beguiling both Joanne and the audience. The show also utilized this by having her appear in an imagined group tango during Tango: Maureen, which brought to mind Galabby's turn as Zus Natasya in MUSIKAL PETUALANGAN SHERINA, another feisty femme fatale.

But the standout moment has to be Over the Moon. As a song in itself, it's perhaps not particularly exciting (I admit to skipping this song during my RENT listen-throughs). But as a performance piece, Galabby is peerless. She and Venytha had created a performance that is so mesmerizing, so rousing, that you can't help but moo with her (and the adorable Elsie strapped to her back!). Galabby knows how to highlight every line with the right movement, making the number not only immensely enjoyable, but also easily digestible. Maureen doesn't come off as a well-meaning protestor lost in her own head, but a performing artist that delivers her message so brilliantly.

The biggest surprise in the cast for me personally was Louise Monique as Joanne. As a band vocalist, she is a relative newcomer to the musical scene, having only acted in the web series PAYUNG FANTASI earlier this year. Yet you'd never tell from the high level of energy and confidence she brought to the role.

Monique's Joanne is confident, real, and brings down the house every time she sings. Her absolute powerhouse of a voice has a wonderful depth to it that makes all of her sung lines pack a punch. But more than that, she's every bit Maureen's match; she can stand her ground and face Maureen's capriciousness. This balance of power makes the relationship work. It's most apparent in the number Take Me or Leave Me, which put both cast member's vocal and acting skills front and center.

Rounding up the cast, we have Aldafi Adnan as Benjamin Coffin III a.k.a. Benny. His Benny is very animated, with grand gestures that catch one's eye. Interestingly, Benny comes off as anc out-and-out villain, particularly in the first act, seemingly always sneering and taunting the rest of the cast.

This antagonistic approach made it quite jarring remembering that he was part of this circle of friends, and doubly so when he joined them in Act 2. A gentler, more sincere take might have benefitted the character and made for a more coherent intercharacter dynamics. And I am confident in saying that Aldafi would be able to pull such a direction just as well.

TEMAN's RENT Ignites the Air with Artistic Fire and Communal Warmth

It would be remiss not to mention the ensemble cast: Ajeng Apriliasih, Dante Kidd, Mumu Harmoun, Neala Vangelin, Ni Made Ayu Raharsini Gurnitha, Putri Indam Kamila, Renno Krisna, and Robertus Darren Radyan. Each and every one of them are solid performers who can stand toe-to-toe with the main cast members. They played each role - ranging from socialites, parents, police officers, people with HIV, the homeless - with such ease and stunning vocals. Even the calls and voice notes (that I usually do not care for in other productions and recordings) had moments of absolute brilliance.

All in all, the cast is uniformly strong with some absolutely fantastic performances that will stay with you for weeks, if not years. There were, however, some unevenness in how they acted their roles. Some cast members were more understated and subtle in bringing their character to life, while others opted for more obvious and bold. Though these differences are small, they add up throughout the 2,5-hour show, making the show feel just a tad disjointed at times.

Regardless, the show was still greatly impressive; it tugged at your heartstrings; the spectacle wowed but never distracted from the message.

This was not achieved by mere performances, but also the excellent production design (set design by Ratna Odata, props by Arief Riyadi and Dian Fermana, costume design by Ursula S. Gayatri, sound engineering by Adjie Goutama, sound design by Wilson Atmadja, and Lighting Design by Irwan Setyadi).

The set, in particular, was its own character. It's a sprawling, multi-tiered set that served as Alphabet City. The gargantuan complex filled Ciputra's stage, transporting us to 1990's New York City, with intricately woven and exquisitely weathered details (to make them extra grimy and, therefore, authentic) everywhere you look. Of particular note is that there is even graffiti on the set's floor, a nifty detail that only becomes apparent on balcony seats.

In this set, the cast walked, jumped, played, slid, and frolicked. A box that served as Maureen's amplifier double-dutied as an additional platform for the characters to stand upon. Alongside the beautifully dramatic lighting (and even snow falling from above!), the production design made this production of RENT a truly immersive experience.

The costumes, make-up, and hair-do were not a slouch either. Each character's attire feels just like what they would truly pick and wear. The late 90's fashion is not only beautiful to behold but also helps in further defining the different personalities in play. The big showstoppers here have to be Angel's costumes, especially the glittery, flowy, and playful red dress she wears in Today 4 U and the chromatic pink dress she wears as Pussy Galore.

But let's talk beyond the cast, music, and production design for a while.

TEMAN is working with HayVee, a foundation with a focus on providing a safe haven for sexual and mental issue discussions, to provide and understand perspectives from actual people living with HIV/AIDS. The two organizations also plan to hold workshops in December to dispel the stigmas surrounding the disease.

In the number Life Support, the names of the people with HIV/AIDS are changed to those in the local HIV/AIDS community. This mirrors Jonathan Larson's original script, which integrates the name of the friends he lost to the then-epidemic.

RENT is not a perfect script. Larson passed away on the day of its first Broadway preview and didn't get the time to rework the script further. This is especially apparent in the first half of the second act, with a whirlwind of story progression where characters break up and make up with significantly less focus and care than the first act.

The story also draws criticism of glorifying self-imposed suffering and even appropriation of poverty, as the characters seem to impose hardship on themselves simply because it's the "artistic" thing to do. Additionally, there have even been allegations of plagiarism.

Although there is absolute merit in enjoying RENT (and all other media, of course) with a critical eye, I believe what makes RENT as long-lasting and far-reaching is the message at its core.

Beyond the artistry, the then-contemporary issue, the catchy songs and iconic moments, there lies a simple truth: people need others. As Paul - the disbeliever in the HIV/AIDS support group - expresses his fear, it's neither medication nor technology that helped him, but the word and embrace of others in the community.

As Mimi laid cold on the brink of death, she met Angel and was reminded of the people waiting for her. She returned to a flurry of hugs, tears, and words of love from her best friends. They are indeed deeply flawed people who make mistakes, but it's the unbreakable spirit of togetherness at the moment that makes them so precious, so lovable, and something to aspire to.

In this era of rampant commercialism, increasingly frantic rat race, and the promised digital automation of everything, RENT reminds us that, at the end of the day, the people around us are what we have.

And it's why TEMAN's production of RENT is doubly important beyond its tremendous artistic merit. The direction often put the whole cast, main characters and ensemble both, together, in a unified embrace. These characters are so vulnerable, but together they are strong and warm. They are untouchable by disease, the cold, even capitalism. Even as reality hits them, this altruistic camaraderie will allow them to rebuild towards a brighter future while honoring those they lost.

They give in to love and choose not to live in fear. Are we ready to make the same choice?

TEMAN's RENT Ignites the Air with Artistic Fire and Communal Warmth



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From This Author - Rakaputra Paputungan

Rakaputra Paputungan is a Jakarta-based musical theatre aficionado who seeks to spread the love of the art form in Indonesia. Often volunteering for musical or theatrical productions, he's alwa... (read more about this author)


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